National JC student wins prestigious Young Scientist award at international science fair

SINGAPORE- A Singaporean student has for the first time, won a prestigious award at an international pre-college science and engineering fair.

National Junior College student Shannon Lee, 17, won the Intel Foundation Young Scientist award at the Intel International Science and Engineering fair last week. The award carries a prize of US$50,000 (SG$62,655) which can be used only for higher learning purposes.

The second year junior college student presented her project on using carbonised brinjal, or eggplant, as an electrocatalyst to improve the stability of rechargeable zinc-air batteries.

This is a more environmentally-friendly and cheaper option than commercially available catalysts now. Zinc-air batteries currently use platinum as a catalyst.

Shannon was picked along with two other participants from 1,787 finalists at the science fair in Los Angeles as having the top three best projects.

She also won, under the Energy and Transportation category, one of the first prize awards, with a cash prize of US$3,000. As there are multiple first prize awardees, Shannon's project was then presented the Best in Category award. For that she received another US$5,000 in cash.

While Shannon does not remember how brinjals came to be involved in her research, the Integrated Programme student said: "I was going through an eggplant craze at that time and I liked to eat it a lot. Then I realised that eggplants have a very porous structure and high water content."

It eventually led to her experimenting with the spongy vegetable, and realising its potential to function as an electrocatalyst.

When asked her future plans after the A-level exams, Shannon said: "I'm definitely going to do science, but I'm keeping my options open. I haven't exactly decided what I want to do next."

Three other projects by students from Raffles Institution, Dunman High School and NUS High School of Mathematics and Science received awards at the science fair too.